Why are long-tail keywords important if they don’t have much search volume?

There is a question I get from clients over and over again: why should I go after a long-tail keyword? If they don’t have much search volume, why is it worth it? We all love “money keywords,” or keywords with a high search volume. We know that, if we can even get one percent of that search volume, we will have more visitors than we do right now.

So does everyone else. Let me repeat that again. So does everyone else. Those money keywords are being targeted by everyone—from the smallest microsites to the biggest and oldest brands. That competition isn’t getting smaller, either. Every minute, 571 sites are created.

We live in a world of choice. You want men’s running shoes? At Zappos.com, you will find 1,103 different options and over 35 brands. During the time—long ago—when I was running marathons, I would go down to the running store and be lucky if the store had 40 different shoes. It always had the same brands, too. Nike, Adidas, Reebok were the old standards, with ASICS if you had special feet and New Balance as the new kid on the block for people with injuries. Choice is a new thing.

Given that we have so many choices, people are starting to have a difficult time actually making a choice.

If you search “running shoes” on Google, the search engine will return 184,000,000 sites. Stop and think about that for a moment. The Library of Congress only holds 155,300,000 books. There are more pages on the internet about running shoes than there are books in the Library of Congress. The number is staggering.

Now try searching “running shoes for bad feet.” This is still a well-searched keyword phrase, part of what we call the “chunky middle.” It could actually count as a long-tail keyword, but the search volume and competition say otherwise. Google returns 20,400,000 pages. Once again, we are left with a rather large amount of searches—but not quite as many as before, thanks to a more specific query.

This is the last time, I promise. Look up “running shoes for supination men.” Now, we have 98,000 results. With three additional words, we have reduced the total number of competing sites to just 0.05% of the money keyword. With fewer results, it’s much easier for your company to rise above the competition and reach the top of that results page.

It’s About Rank . . . Duh

When a company decides to engage in SEO, they are making a concerted effort for one thing, and one thing only: to increase their rankings on Google. Sure, there are other search engines out there, but the real target is always Google since it’s currently the only game in town.

Why is ranking so important? As we all know, the higher the rank, the more clicks you get.

Studies on click-through rates of Google search results show that the first result on the first page gets clicked 50% of the time. The second result gets hit 32% of the time, and the third gets hit about 28%. By the time you get to the 10th place, your result is receives clicks less than 10% of the time. Results on the second page rarely get clicked. Once you’re on the third page, you might as well not exist to most of the world.

Your chances of getting to the front page are much better with a keyword query like “running shoes for supination men” than with a shorter phrase like “running shoes.”

But It’s Also About Conversions

Not only is it easier to get to the front page with long-tail keywords, but there is more money in it for you as well.
Long Tail Keywords vs. Short Tail Keywords

According to a study published on searchenginewatch.com, long-tail keywords convert customers 26.07% of the time, while money keywords convert only 10.60% of the time. While the reasons for this higher percentage of conversion aren’t clear, it is largely thought that people who are looking for more specific products and services—and, thus, using long-tail keywords—have more intention of buying.

What This Really Means

In the end though, we aren’t going after long-tail keywords because they are a vast untapped resource or because they convert better. The real reason? Content.

Content is everything. As Google tries to give users better search results by delivering what they think the users want rather than by what they type into the search box, the search engine looks for consumer-driven content to display in the search results. Furthermore, a short search term typed into a search bar may not actually be a short search term in the eyes of Google. The search may change based on the searcher’s history, context, location, and what Google “thinks” are searching for.

So when you start to optimize for long-tail keywords, you need to create more content. No longer are you just picking a keyword, building some links, and creating a landing page that is generally relevant. You are now going to pick a specific long-tail keyword to provide relevant and useful information about. Long-tail keywords usually indicate that searchers are doing more serious problem solving.

You can take advantage of this by supplementing your own site with helpful, useful content structured around long-tail keywords and queries (i.e. a page responding to my queries entitled: “Irregularly Shaped Feet? Make Running Easier One Step at a Time”). More than any product page, these kinds of informational pages are shared, liked, and bookmarked, bringing more link juice and visitors to the site.

Remember though, this isn’t the death of the keyword, or the “money keyword.” You should still go after those terms, just remember to manage your expectations. I know you want to rank for number one, but by going with a few long-tail keywords, you can hope to get on the first page sooner.

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Colton is the former Director of SEO Strategy at Boostability testing and defining the products and processes that make Boostability's customers successful. He was part of Boostability for over 8 years. Colton loves hanging out with his family and gaming. He runs a personal blog over at www.coltonjmiller.com where he discusses gaming, life, and SEO.